Friday, August 27, 2010

The Mom Who Never Has A Camera

Before the birth of my first baby, my doula suggested that I bring a camera to the hospital and think about designating someone to take pictures in the delivery room. 

"You may regret it someday if you don't have any pictures.  At least this way, you'll have them if you want them."

I didn't take the pictures.

But that's just who I am. 

I'm the mom who never has a camera.

Anywhere you go, moms seem to have cameras.  Other women seem obsessed with documenting the tiniest details of their children's lives, from delivery onward.  They compile albums, they scrapbook, they have memberships to portrait studios because they visit them so frequently. 

This is not to say that I have no pictures or that I see no value in capturing freeze frames of fleeting moments.  When I remember, or when the camera happens to find it's way into my purse or my car, I've snapped some beautiful, candid shots.  The walls of my home are covered with many of my favorite family photos, and they are among my most cherished possessions.  But most of them are pictures I came by randomly, and only a couple are from real "sittings" with a professional photographer.  I like it that way.  It feels real to me.  It feels like I'm living my life with my family and occasionally taking snapshots as reminders of the good times we've enjoyed, rather than studiously documenting every moment for posterity.

Yes, there are times when I've missed capturing special moments because I haven't had my camera with me.  There are certainly pictures that I don't have and have come to wish I had taken. 

But for the most part, I like my haphazard way of collecting pictures -- an occasional portrait sitting here, some candid shots there.  It isn't right for everybody; I know that there are lots of women who love scrapbooking, and I'm sure that somewhere there are some who have even scrapbooked their births . . . 

As for me, I still haven't come to regret my decision not to take those birth pictures.  Those images are instead among the many rich and vivid memories that are stored carefully away on the hard drive of my mind.

And that's a hard drive that can never be erased.


What kind of picture-taker are you?  Do you take tons of photos and schedule portrait sittings for every birthday?  Or do you always find yourself without a camera?  What kind of family photographs are important to you?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spreading the Word: Postpartum Depression, AOL, and Mothers Who Harm Their Children

I've never experienced postpartum depression. 

I've experienced some pretty dark moments as a mother, moments when sleep deprivation and anger and frustration and exhaustion and despair and the stresses of everyday life seem overwhelming. 

Moments when I've wished to be anywhere but here with this screaming, endlessly needy infant.

But I've never come close to experiencing postpartum depression.  I can't even imagine how truly terrifying it must be for a mother to endure.

And, like Annie at PhD in Parenting wrote, there are other women, women who have been there, whose voices need to be heard.

An article appeared on AOL today about the recent murder of two young South Carolina boys by their mother.  It included a comment made by a criminal profiler, a woman named Pat Brown who stated that postpartum depression is a "crock." 

And there are some very smart, very strong women who have been very pissed off by this blanket statement about what is a very real illness.

I don't know the specifics of the case in South Carolina, but, in this situation, they don't seem to matter.  Pat Brown wasn't just speaking specifically about this one case.  She was making a blanket statement about women everywhere.

If you're interested in this story, you can read the AOL article here.  Keep in mind, however, that it has already been edited to remove the controversial comments. 

If you're interested in some smart, serious discussions from women who have battled depression first-hand,  then here are the links that you really need to read.

Read this post from Postpartum Progress.

Or visit Catherine at Her Bad Mother and read her post The Monster In the Closet.

You can also read An Open Letter to Pat Brown (the profiler who made the offensive statement) at the Pretty Babies blog.  And the post has been updated to include Pat Brown's response.

These women, and women like them, are the experts.  They may not be professionals, and they may not  have all the answers, but they've been there.

They've been there.  In my mind, that gives them a very real right to a very valid opinion.

The criminal profiler?  Maybe, and that's a big maybe, she has a valid opinion in the specific case that she has been working on. 

But an opinion on postpartum depression in women everywhere?

No way in hell.

And AOL should know that.        

Saturday, August 14, 2010

True Mom Confessions: I Sent My Daughter to Kindergarten Because She Watches Too Much TV

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Is it really possible that many St. Louis students are headed back to school next week?  In the midst of this heat wave?  Isn't this one of those, oh, I don't know, really good reasons why school didn't used to start until after Labor Day?  And am I actually at a point where I'm old enough to start remembering back in the day? 

Just kill me now . . .

My own daughter isn't currently a part of the back-to-school fanfare and won't be headed to school next week -- because we're still finalizing details of where we'll be moving to for this school year, and because I'm still wrestling with my eternally conflicted feelings about home school vs. public school vs. the private schools that we can't afford. 

So I've decided to share a post that I wrote last year, about my decision to send my daughter to kindergarten in Florida.  It was a tough one, and not one that was reached lightly.  But, in the end, it was also a good one.  A really good one.  So I'm hoping that, by revisiting my thinking back then, I'll be inspired to give myself a much-needed kick in the rear, and will be able to make a decision one way or the other about what to do this year.  And then, you know, move on.

Or maybe not.  I guess we'll see . . .


I sent my daughter to kindergarten because she watches too much TV.

Okay, that's not entirely true . . .

But it's a little more true than I would like it to be . . .

I know that, for most people, you send your child to kindergarten because he or she has turned five by whatever randomly designated "cutoff date" your home state has decreed. 

Or you have your child "tested," determine that you have a genius on your hands, and send little Johnny off a year early, despite the fact that, no matter how smart he is, he is in no way developmentally ready for the unavoidable emotional stresses of school.

Yes, that is an unnecessary smart-ass remark.

I, unfortunately, am not one of those people who is content to do something just because someone else said I should. 

Especially Florida's Department of Education. 

Do you remember the 2000 election and the stellar role that the state of Florida played in that disaster?  That tends to make me even more squeamish about the idea of the state government having any sort of a say in my child's education.

I have serious qualms with the public school system in general, and Florida's full-day kindergarten program in particular.  And yet, last month, I turned my precious 5 year-old daughter over to that very kindergarten program.

Why, you might ask?

It wasn't because she just happened to turn 5 before September 1.  It wasn't because I thought she needed social interaction.  It wasn't because I expected her to learn a lot, or thought they might actually teach her something worthwhile.  It wasn't even because I needed a break and wanted to have some time away from her.

It was mostly because of the Disney channel.

We love the Disney channel in our house:  Hannah Montana, The Suite Life (at the Tipton or On Deck), Sonny With A Chance, Wizards of Waverly Place . . . you get the picture.

Photo credit alacoolk

And except for the morning (when there is Playhouse Disney, as some of you may know) the shows are on ALL DAY LONG!!!

Now, letting my daughter sit on the couch and watch the Disney channel all day long is in no way my idea of good mothering.  And I can honestly -- and I'm breathing a sigh of relief here -- say that there has never been a day when this has happened.

But recently, we've come way too close.  I can slowly feel myself morphing into the kind of mom who would let her kids watch TV all day, every day if it meant that I could get even a moment of peace.

So I decided that school just might be a better alternative right now. 

For both of us.

She can get out of the house and away from her grouchy, overly-stressed mother, and interact with adults who aren't, well, me.

And I can have six hours a day free from her constant chatter.  I wouldn't call it a break, since I'm still chasing a wildly energetic 15 month-old, but at least he doesn't talk yet, and there are moments when I can actually hear myself think.

They're fleeting, but they are there.

Yes, I feel guilty.  I feel like she's going to school for the wrong reasons.  I worry that I'm killing her creativity and ruining her life.  I think about homeschooling, which was (and still is) attractive to me in so many ways, not the least of which is the fact that I wouldn't have to drag my tired self out of bed at the crack of dawn every morning -- okay, okay, neither would she -- I'm supposed to be thinking about what's best for her, not me, I know.

And there's this awesome thing called unschooling where you as a parent don't really have to do anything except trust that they'll learn what they need to know when they need to know it.

This ALL appeals to me.

But, at the moment, she loves kindergarten.  She loves her teacher and her classmates and all the daily drama and excitement that comes with a room full of 5 year-olds. 

Kindergarten, as it turns out, is a lot more entertaining than I am.   

And even though I like to think that, if she were home during the day, I would do all sorts of fun, enriching activities, I know that it would never happen.  When you're at a point in your life where you're asking yourself what on earth made you decide that you had it together enough to actually try and raise other people, it just doesn't feel like the best time to take on more responsibility.

So, at least for the time being, I chose kindergarten over the Disney channel.  Was it the right choice?  I don't know. My hope is that the public school system will teach my daughter something more valuable than what she might learn from Miley Cyrus.

My fear is that it won't.


In case you were wondering, I'm at a much better place in my life now than I was when I wrote this a year ago . . .   

And, yes, my daughter did, in fact, learn more in kindergarten than she would have from Miley Cyrus -- and, given the year that Miley has had, I'm glad that I chose to separate them :)

But I still maintain my overall concerns with our public school system, whether in Florida or Missouri or any other state.  One positive experience, with one particular teacher, in one particular school, can't negate what is, overall, a very flawed system.

So now what?  

Now, I have some serious thinking to do.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

STL Views and Reviews: Crown Candy Kitchen

Crown Candy Kitchen.

If you live in St. Louis, you've probably heard of it. 

If you don't live in St. Louis, you may have heard of it as well -- most recently, the St. Louis institution was featured on the Travel Channel's Man v. Food when host Adam Richman failed the Crown Candy Challenge to drink five malts in thirty minutes. 

No, it's not the place to go if you're looking for a healthy experience . . .

Crown Candy Kitchen is hailed as one of St. Louis' "oldest and most popular attractions."  Since 1913, Crown Candy has been making its own confectionary delights, and serving classic soda fountain treats like malts, phosphates, and giant sundaes. 

If it's a hearty meal that you're in the mood for, they also serve sandwiches like a BLT that comes stacked with an entire pound of bacon!!!

They've even had a book written about them, Sweetness Preserved: The Story Of The Crown Candy Kitchen.

So being the good St. Louisans that we are, my husband and I decided recently that we really couldn't get away with never having visited Crown Candy Kitchen any longer.

Taking our kids and checking it out for ourselves just seemed like our civic duty.

But we were kind of disappointed.  It didn't live up to all the hype.

If you're looking for a good dose of nostalgia, a visit to Crown Candy Kitchen is like taking a step back in time.  It's even still located at its original location on St. Louis Avenue in North St. Louis -- and driving along those streets you can almost see the neighborhood as it must have once been, before the beautiful, Victorian style homes that look like they came straight out of Meet Me In St. Louis became the run-down, bullet-ridden places that they are today.

The candy counter, filled with licorice and giant lollipops and homemade chunks of chocolate, was neat (and thoroughly entertained my kids during our almost hour long wait).  But, by today's standards, it was small, and to my grown-up eye, the candy just didn't look as enticing as I thought it should.

I'm not sure what I was expecting -- it's not like I had visions of Willy Wonka's factory dancing in my head -- but the reality just didn't live up to the expectation.  I've seen better candy counters in my day . . . Godiva, anybody???   

The restaurant boasts ten booths that seat four, and a few more two-seaters.  So when they're busy, as they were on the Sunday afternoon when we decided to go, you wait. 

And wait.  And wait.  At one point, the line was out the door and down the street.  And when you wait for something that long, especially with young children, you expect it to be worthwhile. 

Don't get me wrong, the food isn't bad.  It is good.  But it's not destination-trip-to-North-St.-Louis-good

My husband had that BLT (and I quietly pulled slices of bacon off piece by piece lest he have a heart attack right in front of me).  I had a Breaded Chicken Sandwich.  The chicken was hot, fresh, and juicy, the bread was soft, an the sandwich was slathered with Miracle Whip.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  But it was also something that I could make at home.  Or get from KFC. 

And the ice cream was what truly disappointed us.  We ordered a Fire Chief Special Sundae that was big enough for the four of us to share (which at $5.75 it should be).  It was smothered in chocolate sauce with strawberries, bananas, nuts, and whipped cream, but it was only so-so as today's ice cream sundaes go. 

It was served in a shallow dish, and as we dug in and the ice cream started to melt, it also started to overflow.  As in a gooey mess of ice cream soup covering our table and an overzealous toddler who couldn't stop eating long enough for us to wipe it up. 

Did I also mention that we were seated at the very first table and that an entire line of hungry customers waiting for a table were standing right next to us watching this all play out?  By the end of our meal, all we wanted to do was get the hell out of that place.

So, long story short, Crown Candy Kitchen didn't do it for us.  There are lots of better places for ice cream in St. Louis -- Oberweis, Ted Drewes, or Fritz's, just to name a few.  At this point, it seems like Crown Candy Kitchen is coasting on their history and their name, and they're popular, well, just because they're popular . . . 

And quite frankly, if you want a fat-laden, heart-stopping meal to go along with your sundae, I think a trip to Steak 'n Shake is a better bet.

Have you visited Crown Candy Kitchen?  What did you order and did you like it?  Am I missing something? 

Photo courtesy of

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why I Find The Stir Annoying As Hell -- or My Response to the Giselle/Breastfeeding-Should-Be-A-Law Controversy


Supermodel extraordinaire.

Once-upon-a-time girlfriend to Leo, wife to NFL superstar Tom Brady. 

New mother.

And a member of the breastfeeding police force.

Okay, not exactly.

I used to dislike Giselle, for no other reason than that she's married to Tom Brady.  And I hated Tom Brady, because if you're from St. Louis you might remember that thing called a Super Bowl that he singlehandedly stole from the Rams and Kurt Warner back when he was a nobody. 

And then he quickly became a somebody and the Patriots went on to dominate the NFL while the St. Louis Rams marched into oblivion.

Okay, that may not be quite how it happened, and it's probably not be a good reason to dislike the woman, but in my mind, that's how it went.  Throw in the whole Bridget Moynahan debacle, and Tom and Giselle just didn't seem like people I should like. 

But then she went and had that natural home birth in a bathtub.  Which is something that I did too.  You can call me crazy -- lots of people have.

So, in my eyes, Giselle's stock went way up.  And I started to hate Tom Brady a little less.  It isn't every man who is secure enough and smart enough to see the benefits of home birth, or to support his wife in her desire to have one. 

For some reason, moms seem to bond with celebrities who are vocally supportive of their own parenting choices.  Or even with celebrity moms who are simply pregnant at the same time.  I could say something witty and insightful here about our country's national obsession with celebrity culture, but, hey, it is what is.  I didn't say that it's right.

So now, Giselle is in the news again, for stating that mandatory breastfeeding for six months should be a "worldwide law."  Now to be fair, I'm not sure exactly what her words were.  It was said during an interview, when words can be taken out of context.  But, man, has she been flamed. 

The Stir published a blog post entitled Why I Find Giselle Bundchen Annoying As Hell, which I hated and which tempted me to write my own blog post entitled Why I Find The Stir Annoying As Hell.  You can't criticize someone for being judgemental when you're in the midst of judging them yourself.  Giselle may not have expressed herself very well, but playing the "empty-headed supermodel" card is just lame. 

And, no, Linda Sharps, it was not Giselle's ATTITUDE that got her a complication-free birth.  Preparation and knowledge do, in fact, make a big difference in birth outcome, and Giselle's decision to labor at home went a long way in getting her the birth she wanted. 

Hers was not the decision of an empty-headed supermodel, thank you very much.

Okay, so now we know that I'm annoyed by the The Stir . . .

I'll be the first to admit that Giselle needs to choose her words more carefully.   I can completely understand why so many people have been offended by some of the things she has said; she doesn't appear to have a lot of tact.  And while I support breastfeeding to 6 months and beyond, I absolutely do not believe that women need any more pressure than they are already under. 

A breastfeeding law would do nothing but create more stress for new moms who are constantly told that "breast is best" but rarely given the support and information that they need to breastfeed successfully.  Women in our culture are caught in a catch-22, and silly statements from celebrities, even celebrities I like or agree with, don't help the situation.

Although I also don't understand the thinking of one commenter who said that after hearing Giselle, it "makes her want to formula-feed."  Come on, trying to stick it to a celebrity who doesn't even know you exist is not a good enough reason to use formula.  It's just not.   

In response to all the controversy, Giselle has issued a statement on her blog, clarifying what she meant.  Giselle writes:

"My intention in making a comment about the importance of breastfeeding has nothing to do with a law.  Becoming a new mom has brought a lot of questions, I feel like I am in a constant search for answers on what might be best for my child."      

So I'm conflicted as to what my ultimate response to this whole situation should be.  I agree with most of what I think Giselle has meant to say, though I don't think that she has articulated herself very well.  She has come across as judgemental in many situations.  I don't like that. 

But I do like hearing from celebrity moms who parent in a less than mainstream way.  And I do think that she should be allowed her opinion.

Because, in the end, it's just that.  An opinion.  From a woman who is new to motherhood and still trying to figure it out.  A woman whose thoughts and feelings really have no bearing on my life or yours. 

As moms, we get opinions from everybody -- our mother-in-law, the busybody neigbour down the street, and, yes, celebrities.  But I stopped listening to my mother-in-law years ago.

And if you don't like what a celebrity says, you can stop listening to her too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Vote For Missouri Midwives Is A Vote For Women Everywhere

When I lived in Florida, I could open up the Yellow Pages, flip to the "M" section, and find the names of local midwives.  Same as if you flipped to the physician's listings if you wanted to find an obstetrician.

Try to do this in St. Louis.

Until recently, you wouldn't find any midwives listed.  You wouldn't have even found a midwife category.



In states like Florida, midwives have been an integral part of maternal health care for decades.  Many work alongside obstetricians in their hospital-based practices, while others operate birth centers or attend births in their client's homes.  They do this legally, and even women who choose obstetric care during their pregnancies see midwifery care as a valid alternative.

Missouri women have not had these choices.

In fact, most people in Missouri have no concept of who a midwife is or what she does.

By definition, the word midwife literally means "with woman."  According to The Free Dictionary, a midwife is defined as a person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist women in childbirth. 

In countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, midwives provide "the first line" of care for all normal, healthy pregnancies and are viewed as essential to the excellent perinatal outcomes these three countries enjoy.

Trained, certified midwives are highly skilled individuals who can handle low-risk pregnancy and birth with compassion and ease.  Their presence within the maternity system allows obstetricians to focus on the high-risk patients who truly need their unique skills and medical training. 

In states like Florida, midwives have been practicing legally since the 1970's and midwifery care is common.  For an idea about the history of midwifery in Florida, click here

Now compare this to the history of midwifery in Missouri, which can be found here
In Missouri, midwives have been virtually invisible for many years.  Sadly, many politicians believe that they have the right to decide when and how women should deliver their babies, and for decades have been making concerted efforts to criminalize midwifery and deny Missouri women access to the maternity care of their choosing.  

It was only two years ago that Certified Professional Midwives (CPM's) gained the right to legally practice within the state of Missouri without fear of prosecution.  Compare this to Florida, where CPM's have been attending home births and operating birth centers for decades. 

And, regrettably, midwifery in Missouri is still not safe. 

Missouri politicians are still on the attack, with many poised to introduce new legislation to recriminalize the profession.  But these politicians have to be elected before they wield any power over our reproductive choices. 

And it just so happens that the Missouri Primary Election is this Tuesday, August 3rd.


So now, we vote. 

We vote for the candidates who support women, and their right to choose their maternity care providers based on their own needs and desires. 

We vote for candidates who have expressed support for midwives, or even for the candidates who are simply opposing those who have vehemently opposed midwives in the past. 

We vote for women everywhere, because access to quality maternity care is a fundamental right.  It is NOT something that we should be made to fight for.  

Women do not deserve to live in a country that ranks a shocking 40th out of the 181 countries studied recently in terms of maternal mortality ratio. 

(No surprise, many of the countries with far lower rates of maternal mortality are those where midwives are a routine part of prenatal care.)

Nor do women deserve to live in a state that denies them access to the very professionals who have been shown to dramatically improve the outcomes of their births.  

So even if you've never used the services of a midwife, even if you never think you will, you can still consider voting for only candidates who will support women's rights by supporting access to midwifery care.  You can view this handy little chart here to learn more about the candidates' individual positions. 

And yes, I acknowledge that lots of women want or need obstetricians to see them through pregnancy and birth safely.  That is their choice and their right.  But women also deserve both the choice and the right to make a different decision. 

Until midwives are free to practice alongside doctors within both our state and national maternity systems, the fight for women's rights will never truly be over.

A vote for Missouri midwives really is a vote for women everywhere.